In a response to a recent local news story, many radio stations and media outlets this weekend hotly debated whether or not it is appropriate for preschoolers to drink out of miniature plastic beer steins. As I listened to the extremes of children becoming alcoholics to parents sucking all of the fun out of life, I continued to question the study of Germany in a 4-year-old preschool classroom at all!
My understanding of a 4-year-old’s brain tells me that since children at this age are still just at the very literal and egocentric stage of development, they have a hard time thinking about anyone besides themselves. Let alone thinking about the country of Germany, 4000 miles away! Many 4-year-olds I observe do not think about the child 4 feet away from them let alone people they cannot develop a personal relationship with.
I know that we live in a city with a rich German cultural heritage, and I know that children are exposed to many family traditions (some age-appropriate and some not). But without a firsthand relationship with these traditions, preschoolers have a difficult time constructing knowledge of an abstract place and culture.
I support including opportunities for cultures to be explored as long as there is some relevance to the child’s world. Listening to an accordion player play a German tune is age-appropriate and an opportunity for children to share in an experience where they can construct and share knowledge about their world. An accordion player who is someone’s grandparent would provide even more meaningful connections to the children’s own experiences.
In preschool, “social studies” is all about children’s knowledge of every day events and builds on the development of their social skills. Preschool should be about building the foundation of democracy by participating in group decision making, establishing rules and consequences, expressing opinions and respecting the rights of others. Many social studies concepts such as map reading and recognizing events in their historical context are just too abstract for this stage of brain development.
After many years of teaching in a classroom, I know that preparing the curriculum and the environment for children is very time consuming, so make every moment count! Reflect on how much time it takes to purchase materials, like plastic beer steins, and to prepare the day’s lesson on a country you may know very little about. Ask yourself what you hope children will take away from the lesson. If it’s not about meeting some of these age-appropriate milestones, I encourage you to revisit your lesson plan.